Have you ever wondered what might happen if there was an emergency while your hubby or partner is away at work? And I'm not talking about running out of milk before breakfast.
Imagine waking up from a nap one afternoon and being told that you have to evacuate your home because of a bushfire emergency.
Now, imagine doing it without your husband, all while trying to soothe a screaming 4 week old baby and a cheeky 2 year old.
Other than pregnancy and birth, there hasn't been too many emergencies that I've had to live through while hubs has been at work. Sure there have been kid injuries and chooks passing away, maybe even the odd escaped sheep or gastro outbreak.
But what I want to talk to you about is my experience of living through a bushfire while my FIFO husband was away at work.
This is my experience of living through a bushfire while my FIFO husband was away at work.
Do ever watch the news and you see those families that lose their houses in a fire or one of them is injured in an accident and you think, gee that would be really awful. But you kind of think well that's them, this is me?
On one fateful morning in 2016, I was going about my morning routine with my then 4 week old baby and 2 yr old toddler. One of my friends had come to meet our new baby. Hubby had gone back to work, but was due home in a few days.
I remember looking outside and seeing quite a bit of smoke. It was actually a bit eerie, but I didn't think it was unusual (it's ok - I know that it was a bit silly of me, but I was honestly still in my "I've just had a baby" brain phase). I remember saying goodbye to my girlfriend and heading back inside. It was about lunchtime and I was tired. I laid down with the boys and fell asleep (as you do when you've got a newborn).
You have to leave - NOW!
All of a sudden I heard a bang bang bang on my front door. It was my neighbour. Kate, she said, we have to get out. The fire is really bad and we need to evacuate - NOW. WTF? I literally stood there, rooted to the spot. For once in my life I didn't know what to do. Was our house going to burn down?
Haze was still asleep, but Tex, who was only 4 weeks old was screaming ... again. I just remember crying and thinking, I honestly don't know what to do. There was no one to call. See this is the part where most people would call their husband or their Mum, right? But hubby was away at work and Mum passed away 7 years ago.
Even though I knew there was nothing he could do, I called my husband and told him what was happening. Lucky for me, he is very calm in distressing situations (and he's used to my emotional outbursts) so he just told me to put Tex in the baby carrier and pack a bag of things for me and the boys, grab my computer, birth certificates etc and put them in the car. Yeah, easier said than done, right? I didn't even know where our birth certificates were.
And what about our photos ... all the little trinkets from our wedding, my Mums "memory box" - the thought of losing everything makes you suddenly realise all the things you actually want to keep.
I didn't know, but he rang one of his friends in Australind who came out and turned on all the boundary sprinklers for me (we live on 5 acres). At this point, I just opened the boot of the Jeep and was loading in anything I can think of - not even in bags, I was just piling it in. Seriously, I was in panic mode.
There were so many thoughts going through my head. To be honest, losing my house in a fire would be one of my biggest fears. And yet, I had never actually done anything to prevent it from happening. Kind of strange when you realise that I live adjacent to the State Forest and am surrounded by pine trees!
Where do I go?
To add fuel to the fire (yep I went there) I didn't actually know where I was going to go. I knew I didn't want to go to the Evacuation Centre in town (seriously, with a newborn and a toddler that would be absolute hell). I couldn't go out to my Dad's (and not just because the boys would drive him crazy) but Binningup was about to be evacuated too and I certainly didn't want to be moved again.
My Mum's parents were in Australind at the time but my grandmother suffers from severe dementia and my grandfather is immobile, so not a place I wanted to be with my noisy, needy kids.
The friend that hubby had called lived in Australind with his family. He was FIFO too. They already had 3 kids, but they welcomed us into their home. Thank goodness.
Time to think
Sitting at someone else's house wondering if your house is burning down certainly gives you a lot of time to think. You think about all sorts of things ... do I have enough insurance cover on my house. Did I leave something behind that I'd be absolutely devastated to lose in a fire? Remember all that stuff I mentioned before? Well I thought of a tonne of other items I would be devastated to lose while I lay there feeding my baby.
I remember laying next to my boys in bed and checking Facebook to see if anyone knew of anything. I kept refreshing the groups where people were chatting, looking at the Emergency App and hoping and praying. I can only imagine what hubby was thinking about - being away from us during this time and not being able to do anything at all.
I remember the exact moment I read that Yarloop had been lost in the fires. I just remember thinking, OMG, that's an actual town, a town that I know, a town where people live. Their houses, their history ... gone.
It was just awful - and of course your thoughts wonder to your own home - was it still there? When would we be able to go home? Our house is on the other side of Harvey, so quite a way from Yarloop ... but the way people were talking in the FB groups, our house was gone ... or at least it was about to be.
It didn't end there though. Even when the fire had passed and we had found out that our house was safe, we were still not able to return home. And to add salt to the wounds, hubby couldn't actually get home either. He could fly into Perth, but with the highways closed it would be an 8 hour drive from Perth for him to get to us.
I remember just sitting on the floor, holding my baby and crying, wanting him to just walk through the door. I felt so guilty because I knew there were people who had actually lost their homes and lives, but I just wanted my husband, I wanted to go home.
Lucky for me, my husband is freaking amazing and he drove the 8 hours through God knows where to get to us in Australind. He piled everything in the car and we drove home - there was no one manning the road block at our road and so we went in and we were able to get to our house. It was about 4 days after the fire by now.
We were so lucky to be able to go home to our house. We had a lot of ash and debris to clean up. We lost the water in our rainwater tank due to the ash residue (we have no mains water, so it cost us over $1000 to get more water trucked in).
Vulnerability in our time of need
Being a FIFO wife and mother can often leave us feeling vulnerable - not just in emergency situations, but in everyday life. We are often isolated, dealing with the daily struggles of motherhood alone. Many of us don't have extended family that we can call upon for help when we need a break. There are just so many situations where we really do need our partners,
Even if it's not a major bushfire - there are many other situations that can make us feel vulnerable and alone. Having sick kids when you've got no help and hubby has only just gone back to work and then you get sick too. Being in the late stages of pregnancy and having your partner away at work, not knowing if you're going to go into labour.
While modern life has meant that the village has shifted to perhaps more of an online presence, FIFO life can further stretch the boundaries of this village. Many of us are sitting on the couch alone after the children have gone to sleep wondering what the hell we do next ... or maybe you're up all night with a screaming baby wondering why the hell you're doing it alone, you didn't sign up for this?
Often friends don't understand the unique challenges that can go along with this lifestyle and often the attitude is that we choose this life, so we must just deal with it. But sometimes, we are just choosing to pay our mortgage or perhaps there is not a lot of work in your partner's career in your local area. Sometimes FIFO can be a necessity just to make ends meet.
What did this experience teach me?
The main thing that this experience taught me was to have a back up plan. And to actually acknowledge and accept that bad things do happen (I can be a bit of an ostrich you see). Real life didn't just stop because hubs was away or I'd just had a baby. Real life happened right then and there and hubby wasn't home and he couldn't get home.
A few months later, we actually had a second bushfire threaten our home. Hubby was home for this one and it came within a few hundred metres of our home. We were much more prepared this time and obviously it was much easier as I had him there to help me. We had a plan in place and we were able to deal with the emergency together.
But should another emergency situation arise, I have an action plan and list of people to call - yup a list. Because in an emergency situation, I don't need to be thinking about who, what, where ... I just need to "do".
Have you had to deal with an emergency while your FIFO partner or husband was away at work? We'd love to know - come and chat in our South West FIFO Mums Group.
About the Author
Kate is the founder of South West Mums, coffee connoisseur, FIFO Wife and Mumma of two boys. She loves to explore and write about life in South West WA, motherhood, business and the effects of FIFO on family life. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook, join her Facebook Group or read more of her blog here.
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